Children need healthy foods because their bodies require the nutrients to grow. A child who is given healthy foods will receive a lifetime bonus of a stronger mind and body. A child who is deprived of healthy foods or given too many unhealthy foods can face decades of physical and mental health problems.

Before birth and for the first eight years after birth, children’s bodies develop at a rapid pace. Bones, teeth, and brain cells are just some of the things that develop and need adequate levels of nutrition in order to assimilate into proper healthy growth. You can see the below feeding guide for feeding your children at each stage.

Infants are recommended to consume breast milk and/or infant formula from birth to 6 months. After 6 months, developmental cues will indicate when the infant is ready to try solid food such as ironfortified cereal, fruit, or vegetables. Infant stomachs are very small but growth at this stage is rapid, thus, infants should be fed several times a day. Allow infants to self-regulate how much they consume. Begin with a few tablespoons of solid food a day and increase as needed. Offer solid food slowly and individually, choosing organic as much as possible.

Infants at this stage may be consuming foods from all food groups. Servings may range from about 1/8 to 1/3 cup servings 2 to 3 times a day. At 10 months, combination foods such as macaroni and cheese may be introduced to the infant. Continue to expose the infant to a variety of healthy foods and allow them to self-regulate when and how much to consume.

Your child can eat nearly any food after age 1 as long as it’s in a form that’s safe for him or her, such as pureed or finely chopped. A family history of allergies makes certain foods off-limits for some toddlers. Check with your pediatrician about your child’s special needs. Children ages 1 to 2 years old should be eating solid foods. Breast feeding can be continued at this age, but solid food should be the main source to fulfill energy needs. Children should be eating a wellbalanced diet, similar to that of an adult, with a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein sources, and low-fat dairy. Children in this age range should be consuming whole milk, unless obesity is a concern. Children should eat three meals a day and may also eat one or two healthy snacks. Serving sizes should be about one-quarter of an adult’s serving size.

Rapid growth and development occurs during the preschool years, ages 2 through 5. A child grows about 2 to 3 inches and gains 4 to 5 pounds each year. Proper nutrition and opportunities to play and be physically active are critical to ensuring your child grows properly, learns to enjoy nutritious foods, and adopts healthy behaviors for maximum development and lifelong health.